Dao Du Jour: Day 26

Chapter 26

“The heavy is the root of the light.

The unmoved is the source of all movement.”

~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.

When I was learning Tai Chi in graduate school many moons ago, this insight was made visceral.

I was paired up with a twitchy freshman to practice a simple drill: you take a straddle stance about three feet away from the other person, they kick straight at you, and you shift your weight to the side, dodge the kick, and clasp their foot.

Keep in mind that a) this is a practice drill, and b) Tai Chi is slow. Like, really slow. Slow like, yes, the way you see elderly Asian people practicing it in the park slow. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Once we had taken our positions, the instructor, Sifu, gave the go ahead, and my partner, impatient as a greyhound about to be loosed from the starting gate, proceeds to wind up and swing his leg toward my groin.

Luckily, we had just completed the warmup exercises. I mentioned slowness. The warmup has the effect not only of getting your body ready for a workout, but calming the mind and focusing the attention—Sifu likened it to be naturally stoned.

A long leg hurtling toward my groin, I pivoted instantly, effortlessly, like Neo dodging bullets, and seized his foot in one crisp, sure, snapping motion.

I turned my face to see Sifu next to me, a knowing grin resting on his face: “You see how quickly you can react when you’re relaxed?” The lesson didn’t just save me from a half hour or so of excruciating pain. It proved to be transferrable to pretty much everything.

The reason I was able to react so quickly, Sifu later explained, was that I was in the “grounded position.” The idea is Tai Chi is to draw power from your surroundings, particularly from the ground; gravity is not an obstacle to defy, but an energy source to harness. The more rooted we are, the more quickly and correctly we can respond to whatever comes our way.

The opposite—the posture we hold most of the time—is the “floating position.” We are easily knocked off balance or dragged away by distraction.

How often are you in the floating position?

New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”